Against the grain: This non-conformist watch brand continues to surprise

Pushing limits and going for the unconventional, Franck Muller breaks new ground with a fresh injection of fun from Cortina Holdings

The work desk of Franck Muller's eponymous founder on display at the brand's Wisma Atria boutique during an exhibition earlier this year. PHOTO: FRANCK MULLER

Earlier this year, the former Franck Muller boutique at Wisma Atria took on an unusual form.

Instead of a regular watch boutique with creations housed in glass display cases, shoppers were welcomed by an in-store exhibition that detailed the brand’s history and charted the course of its innovations over the years.

“Cortina was developing a new Franck Muller boutique at Ion Orchard, and our Wisma Atria store was in transition,” says Mr Raymond Lim, CEO of Cortina Holdings, which owns the distribution rights of Franck Muller in the region. “So, we developed an exhibition celebrating 30 years of watchmaking by Franck Muller, with archival pieces to show how today’s creations build on the past innovations of the brand.”

The Franck Muller exhibition at Wisma Atria was a runaway success and brought new clients for the brand. PHOTO: FRANCK MULLER

While unorthodox, the exhibition was surprisingly well-received by collectors and the general public. It succeeded in developing a new and younger customer base, and brought in unprecedented sales for the company. 

This unique approach matches the avant-garde philosophy of Franck Muller, which has always injected its own fun and uniqueness, bucking norms, into watchmaking. Since acquiring Franck Muller’s distribution rights in 2021, Cortina Watch has also adopted this unconventional streak into its strategy for the brand. 

A well-respected watchmaker

Loud and colourful, Franck Muller watches were spotted on the wrists of society’s Who’s Who during the Noughties. It was the “It” brand then, with its designs matching the zeitgeist and taste of watch buffs. 

At the same time, the watchmaker pushed horological limits and rolled out ground-breaking creations that were never seen in the industry before, earning itself the highly-deserved title of “Master of Complications”.

Franck Muller's highly complicated Aeternitas Mega 4 features over 1,483 components and is priced at $4.1 million. PHOTO: FRANCK MULLER

Timepieces, such as the highly complicated Aeternitas Mega 4 introduced in 2010, come to mind. It boasts 36 complications, 1,483 components, a 1,000-year calendar and a price tag of S$4.1 million.

With Franck Muller’s accomplishments and technical mastery, acquiring its distribution rights was a no-brainer for Cortina Watch. 

Mr Lim shares: “Cortina first started to sell Franck Muller timepieces through our export business in the 1990s. For me, it is an inspiring brand that drives modern mechanical watchmaking forward. Franck Muller is a well-established, independent watchmaker that sits at the heart of our retail strategy for both Sincere Watch and Cortina Watch.”

Ringing in the changes

While Franck Muller is still well-regarded among the highest echelons of watchmaking, Cortina Watch recognises the need for the watchmaker to appeal to a younger demographic as well as cater more to the watch-loving customers in Southeast Asia. 

Cortina Watch persuaded Franck Muller to introduce a new case size of 43mm for top-selling models such as the Vanguard, designed to accommodate slimmer wrists. 

With the retailer knowing the potential of the women’s market, the Vanguard Rose Skeleton model, a technically and aesthetically sophisticated ladies’ watch, was also promoted to great success.

Apart from organising the exhibition at Wisma Atria, Cortina Watch also streamlined its retail network for Franck Muller, favouring quality over quantity for its points-of-sales. 

That aside, Cortina Watch also launched new store concepts for Franck Muller in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok.

Franck Muller's refreshed boutique in Ion Orchard. PHOTO: FRANCK MULLER

The interiors play on the brand’s aesthetic with finishes that emulate Franck Muller’s watches. Polished surfaces, see-through display columns and textured curves reflect the brand’s iconic tonneau timepieces with skeletonised movements and polished cases.

Earlier this year, the retailer also announced several exclusive models of watches just for Southeast Asia, such as the Round Rainbow Skeleton. 

Mr Lim shares that these exclusive creations are based on exchanges with Franck Muller’s product development team, with customer insights from Cortina Watch on what its clients desire. 

With Cortina playing a key role in the brand refresh, Franck Muller CEO Nicholas Rudaz is convinced that it is the right decision for the watchmaker to partner the retailer. He says: “Being able to work with a dynamic retailer like Cortina Watch is so invigorating for our team.”

Click here for more stories related to Cortina Watch's golden jubilee. To see tributes from its brand partners, go to the Cortina Watch 50th anniversary commemorative website

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